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Preventing Management Burnout Published: Monday, December 14, 2009 8:00 am By: Ramón L. Rivera, President & CEO

Coping with required faster and deeper doses of organizational change is a challenging job for contemporary leaders and managers. The risk of management burnout is today a real threat to the sustained success of organizations. Helping your team achieve a big goal under tougher-than-usual conditions can be exciting, but unless certain conditions are present in the work and relationship systems, management burnout can become a dangerous disease, making change and progress really difficult.

Normally, stress builds when you have too much work and too little time or too few resources to do it. A certain amount of stress is normal -- and may even be desirable -- for any manager. Peak periods of workload may come and go - for example, during your company's busy seasons or in times of major workplace change. If you've developed healthy ways of coping with pressure, this kind of stress isn't necessarily harmful and can even be invigorating. In fact, many professionals report feeling most energized when they have the challenge of completing somewhat more work than they have time to accomplish. But burnout is different from stress.

Burnout tends to involve the following: a loss of passion, motivation, or interest in your work; physical or mental exhaustion, including sleeping disorders as well as other physical symptoms; feeling "dried-up" or out of ideas; feeling that you just don't care as much about your work or that you've lost track of what matters most to you, and feeling that you are just "going through the motions".

Many factors contribute to feelings of burnout in the workplace, including priorities misalignment, organizational change, poor leadership, high demanding workloads, competing priorities, poor communication, and interpersonal conflicts among individuals or in the group. Some of the common organizational causes of burnout include the following:

  •  a constantly changing work environment, including frequent changes in policies and processes or in company vision, priorities, staff, or location, and having little ability to influence the changes being made
  • trouble adjusting to added responsibilities (especially if the demands on you have increased or you are less experienced at managing people)
  • change in priorities that makes extra demands on you
  • lack of recognition of all of the things you are "juggling"
  • changes in industry and the need to keep up with new types of market demands
  • difficulty delegating (or managing people to whom you have delegated work)
  • lack of a work management system that enables you to juggle a variety of priorities as well as determine which are the most critical
  • increased demand for instant information and communication, driven by technologies such as e-mail, instant messaging, and PDAs
  • long periods of high demands without adequate time to rest and recharge

Easing or preventing burnout begins with taking an honest look at your concerns. Do your frustrations relate more to what's going on in your organization or in your own life? Depending on the answer, you may want to seek different solutions for your concerns. Here are some recommendations:

  •  Rethink the work flow or processes your team or area uses. If you have to do more with fewer people or a smaller budget, you may have to change how the work gets done. This can mean doing such things as eliminating processes that no longer serve a need but are still in place because "we've always done it that way." Perhaps work can be reprioritized or reassigned. Maybe temporary help can be arranged to handle the workload.
  • Work proactively and plan for contingencies. This will allow you to anticipate different scenarios and keep you from getting caught off guard (and feeling added stress) in a worst-case situation.
  • Always attempt to "play to your strengths." Build from what you do know, have control over, or can influence. These are your "leverage points."
  • Ask your employees and colleagues for ideas and solutions. If you're always operating on overload, you may be too close to a problem to see a solution. You may not realize that somebody is eager for more work or has fresh ideas on how to solve a problem.
  • Ask for professional help. Engage in a management development program. If your concerns seem to relate more to your own behavior than to changes or pressures in your organization, you might look into programs that focus on building personal effectiveness, such as time management, delegation, dealing with difficult employees, or adjusting to corporate change.
  • Make time to think seriously about your personal and professional priorities.
  • Get closer to those teams or individuals that are driving real strategic priorities. Access relevant information and start influencing the organizational direction from within.
  • Work on the support you need to balance work/life issues. Succeeding, as a manager is easier when you have the support you need in your personal and home life.

Management frustration and burnout originate more in situations of lack of control and influence than in situations of overload. Erratic changes in priorities and requirements that inhibit managers from taking projects and initiatives to conclusion create a feeling of lack of accomplishment and control. People struggle to understand what is the direction and what is expected from them. Under those circumstances, self-esteem is negatively affected and productivity suffers.  Therefore preventing management burnout is about creating an environment in which managers and organizational members can hold open and honest conversations that enable alignment, collaboration and support from each other.


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